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Margot Fonteyn

Dancer

Biography

Margot Fonteyn in action.
Margot Fonteyn in costume as Princess Aurora, Act I of The Sleeping Beauty, 1951 © ROH/Roger Wood

Royal Ballet Prima Ballerina Assoluta Margot Fonteyn (1919–91) was an iconic figure in British ballet. With Ninette de Valois and Frederick Ashton she was instrumental in shaping the Company, and was particularly renowned for her performances in the classics and as a muse for Ashton. Her dance partnership with Rudolf Nureyev towards the end of her career won them both worldwide fame.

Fonteyn was born Margaret Hookham in Reigate. She started ballet lessons aged four in Ealing. In 1928 her family moved to China, where she studied in Shanghai under George Goncharov. She returned to England in 1933 to study under Serfina Astafieva and in 1934 joined Sadler’s Wells School. While a student she made her debut with Vic-Wells Ballet and made her solo debut that year as Young Tregennis (De Valois’ The Haunted Ballroom). When Alicia Markova left the Company in 1935 Fonteyn took over many of her roles and went on to develop a great partnership with Robert Helpmann in the classical ballets. She was reaching the end of her career when she first performed with Nureyev in Giselle in February 1962. Through Nureyev Fonteyn discovered new resources, and their partnership became one of the most famed in ballet’s history.

Fonteyn’s dancing was distinguished by its perfect line and exquisite lyricism, qualities evident in the roles created on her by Ashton. These include Ondine, Cinderella, Chloë, Marguerite and roles in Symphonic Variations and Homage to The Queen.

News and features

BBC to broadcast behind-the-scenes <em>Nutcracker</em> documentary on Christmas Day 2016

BBC to broadcast behind-the-scenes Nutcracker documentary on Christmas Day 2016

30 November 2016

A new feature-length documentary captures the backstage preparations for the return of The Royal Ballet's iconic Christmas production.

60 years of being royal: How The Royal Ballet got its charter

60 years of being royal: How The Royal Ballet got its charter

31 October 2016

October 2016 marks 60 years since Sadler’s Wells Ballet became The Royal Ballet – a change which was hotly debated in the press at the time.

Debate: Is ballet an art form or a sport?

Debate: Is ballet an art form or a sport?

23 August 2016

Combining extreme physical exertion with grace, beauty and subtle interpretation: are dancers athletes or artists?

Photos

Tutu worn by Margot Fonteyn as the Sugar Plum Fairy in a BBC television production of Casse-Noisette (The Nutcracker) (1958)

Margot Fonteyn in costume as Princess Aurora, Act I of The Sleeping Beauty, 1951

Margot Fonteyn

Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev during rehearsals

Cristina and Francesca dressing mannequin with dress designed by Cecil Beaton and worn by Margot Fonteyn as Marguerite in Marguerite and Armand, 1963

Margot Fonteyn as The Miller's Wife and Alexander Grant as The Dandy in The Three Cornered Hat (1947)

Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes as the Spirits of the Air in The Fairy-Queen, Sadler's Wells Ballet/Covent Garden Opera Company (1946). Photo by Roger Wood

Peter Clegg as the Blackamoor, Margot Fonteyn as the Ballerina and Alexander Grant as Petrushka in 1957, The Royal Ballet, 1957. Photograph by Roger Wood

Bust of Margot Fonteyn, displayed in the Royal Opera House Pit Lobby

Rudolf Nureyev as Romeo and Margot Fonteyn as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, The Royal Ballet

Margot Fonteyn, Michael Somes and Frederick Ashton in rehearsal for Ondine

Margot Fonteyn as The Miller's Wife and Léonide Massine as The Miller in The Three Cornered Hat (1947)

Margot Fonteyn as The Miller's Wife and Léonide Massine as The Miller in the The Three Cornered Hat (1947)

Beryl Grey as the Lilac Fairy, Margot Fonteyn as Princess Aurora and Robert Helpmann as Prince Florimund in the Vision Scene of The Sleeping Beauty (1946), Sadler's Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet). Photograph by Frank Sharman

Margot Fonteyn as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty (1946), Sadler's Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet). Photograph by Frank Sharman

Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev and Frederick Ashton at the Silver Jubilee Gala. Photo

Recreation of Margot's Fonteyn's dressing room

Margot Fonteyn as the Ballerina in Petrushka, The Royal Ballet 1957. Photograph by Roger Wood

Robert Helpmann as Prince Florimund and Margot Fonteyn as Princess Aurora in the Vision Scene from The Sleeping Beauty (1946), Sadler's Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet). Photograph by Frank Sharman

Margot Fonteyn as Princess Aurora in the Rose Adage from The Sleeping Beauty (1946), Sadler's Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet). Photograph by Frank Sharman

John Tooley and Margot Fonteyn cutting the Taglioni cake on 30 May 1981

Margot Fonteyn, a famous exponent of the Rose Adagio